My husband, Marv, took his last breath around four yesterday morning, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. Even though heavily medicated he seemed to know that he had to get up at his usual time and go somewhere. Spooned behind him on our king-sized bed, my left arm tucked around his side, I suddenly felt the absence of his chest rising with breath. In the soft dim lighting that shone over him, I opened my eyes and started counting: one, two, three…up to eleven. On the count of twelve, he took in a deep breath for the last time and exhaled quickly into the quietness of death.
I bounded out of bed, down the hallway, to our guest room where our daughter was sleeping. As I cracked open the door, I saw her bolt to the edge of the bed. “He’s gone, isn’t he,” she said.
Minutes later, the CD player at his bedside clicked into his favorite song, “I come to the garden alone…”
Mid-afternoon the day before, Tuesday, I’d told Kathleen to go home for the night. She’d been here with me for several days and nights, and I said, “With Dad’s orneriness, he’s likely to hang on a few more days and one of us has to get some sleep.” Later in the afternoon, I texted her, “If Dad dies during the night, do you want to be here when hospice comes?” Minutes later she answered, “I can come and stay if you would like that.” I said, “Sounds good. Especially since I could not turn Dad without him crying in pain. Leaving him on his left side for now.”
Marv’s final turn in his condition started just a month ago, about six months after diagnosis. Six months of nearly normal living. Six months that we gave thanks for every day of this last month.
His worst pain emanated from his abdomen which began to grow noticeably from day to day. On Monday, three days ago, the hospice doctor ordered a CT scan. Marv and I just had to know exactly what we were dealing with. Bowel obstruction? Fluid retention? Tumor?
Our daughter brought us to the hospital at four. For Marv, who has always walked ten steps ahead of me, shuffling slowly at my side, cradling his painfully distended abdomen with his arms, the trip to the lab for a blood draw, then to the cubicle for the start of an IV, then to another room to drink the two bottles of prep, then to another room to get on the table for the scan and then down again, was summed up to me as I retrieved him from the CT tech, “I could hardly do it,” he whispered, “Do what?” I asked. “Get my legs, my body, up on the table.”
I texted our daughter, who’d been waiting with our grandkids in a nearby parking lot, that we were waiting out front. Marv stood, arched over a waist-high trash receptacle, silently moaning in pain. I had to lift his legs to get into the SUV. My husband, who has always run circles around us, now could not lift his legs.
The kids had been to camp and Grandpa asked, first thing, “How was your day? What did you do?’ He’d just wished all the technicians we’d encountered a good day, so I was not surprised that his first words to the kids were to ask about their day.
At home, I had to help Marv get his legs turned and out of the SUV. He staggered over to his lawn chair out front. “Ask Kath to make me some coffee, will you?” He knew his daughter would put in the three heaping teaspoons of bold instant Folgers that he liked. A package had arrived. I opened it—from my one remaining sibling (from four), my sister from Seattle and her four daughters. Kathleen took our picture.
I hoped we wouldn’t have to wait until Tuesday to hear the results, but I needn’t have feared. The hospice doctor called within an hour of our being home. Marv’s abdomen was full of cancer. No bowel obstruction. No fluid retention. But tumors, lots of tumors.
I was sitting at our kitchen table, scribbling notes as he talked. He detailed the results of the scan and then detailed a medication regimen to provide for no more pain. He said I had the option to bring Marv into their hospice house, but he’d heard from the nurses that we were determined to stay at home. He asked, “Are you up for this?” When I said yes, he said, “Are you sure?” Of course, I was going to do this at home. We had made that decision early on: he would die at home.
Then I brought the phone outside to Marv. “Hi,” he boomed to the doctor as if he was greeting an old long-lost friend. He motioned to me to put the phone on speaker. After the doctor explained to him at length about what they’d found, Marv said, “You know on the farm when cattle got bloated, we just stuck a pipe in their sides to let the air out, and they would be so relieved, they’d smile at us afterwards. If you’d just stick a pipe into my belly right now, I’d smile for you too.”
Marv was grinning as we heard the doctor chuckling. They joshed around for at least another twenty minutes. Then it was time for more morphine.
That night, Monday, we said our bedtime prayer together for the last time. He always prayed, but as we lay on the bed, he didn’t start up, so I said, “I’ll pray tonight, honey.” After a few sentences, I asked him if he’d like to add anything. It was quiet for several long seconds. Then, with labored breath and husky voice, he prayed, “Help us to just finish out, without, pain … discomfort … to transition …” And those were his last words. It was around ten Monday evening.
From that time until four in the morning yesterday, Wednesday, I medicated him every four to five hours with the lowest doses of medication prescribed by the hospice doctor. As I dripped the medication by syringe into the deep corners of his mouth, my eyes would tear and I would think, “I never, ever, thought I’d use my nursing skills to help my husband die.” Then I would remind myself, “It’s the last thing I can do for him. To help him fulfill his wish to die at home. And to help him, as we’d always learned in nursing, to die with dignity.”
And I must say a huge thank you to Avera@Home Hospice, especially Kim, our regular nurse, Celeste, our social worker, and Kristi, our chaplain. Marv looked forward to their visits, except for the chaplain. When she’d called the first time, he’d told her with a smile in his voice, “I won’t need you, but my wife will.” They walked with us from the beginning, starting at weekly and ending up to more than once a day. Their phone numbers were first on my phone. The last week, they answered my calls in the wee hours of the night. Before dawn yesterday, Pam was here within twenty minutes of my last call. She had offered earlier in the night to come sit with me if I wanted. While we stood at the bedside for the final time, she conducted a liturgical prayer of thanks to God, she as leader and our daughter and me as readers.
A friend sent this prayer today, a favorite of Marv’s and mine at Fourth Presbyterian of Chicago:
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ,
of Christ the light of the world to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you.
God is good.Thank you for walking along with us on our “adventure,” as I called it from the beginning. An adventure into God’s abiding grace.
You may read Marv’s obituary here.
Oh Lois, I am crying for you and your family. I have been there twice and I know it’s so very hard. But Marv is at peace now and free of pain. And you have the memories of these last months together. Bless you Lois. With love from the other side if the world.
Lois Roelofs said:
And I’m feeling blessed by your kind words. Thanks, Judith.
Marge Ecker said:
This is so beautiful, so you!! Love your posts!! Of course I cried the whole time while I was reading you. Marge
On Fri, Jul 27, 2018, 12:36 AM Write Along with Me wrote:
> Lois Roelofs posted: “My husband, Marv, took his last breath around four > yesterday morning, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. Even though heavily medicated > he seemed to know that he had to get up at his usual time and go somewhere. > Spooned behind him on our king-sized bed, my left arm” >
Linda Heyboer said:
Thank you for sharing your journey. Your family
Is amazing. He was well loved and he loved greatly. Prayers and hugs from the Heyboer clan. So thankful you are by Kathleen. I know first hand walking through this with my Mom that it was so nice to be near each other, it is the next part of the journey. God will carry you through. Love you all.
Lois Bordewyk said:
My heart goes out to you, Loie as you begin your next adventure. I rejoice at Marv’s homecoming but share in your grief as you experience the loneliness of not having him with you any more. May God cover you with His peace and comfort as you begin to pick up the pieces of your life and move forward. “For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
Lynn Rosack said:
I could barely finish reading this through my tears. God bless you and your family, Lois. And thank you for keeping this eloquent journal. As a profound testament to Marv and the power of love and faith, it will help countless others going through similar end of life issues.
V.J. Knutson said:
What a journey you have all been on Lois. I am awed by your strength and courage right to the end (Marv’s also). I hope you will now find some time for self care although even as I type this I can feel the hole left by Marv’s death, and know that it will take time for life to turn a corner. Condolences to all. Thoughts are with you.
Norma Osterhouse said:
Our sympathy to you in the loss of Marv but thankfulness that he is now in his eternal home. He will be missed in so many ways by you, your children and grandchildren, and family and friends. Thank you for sharing the journey you went through in these last 7 months. You express it so well. God’s peace and blessings.
Love, Jim and Norma
I feel like only my tears can speak to you, Lois – and maybe a prayer. May Jesus hold you in his arms and guide you on your new path.
Jan hofstra said:
Such a beautiful tribute. Our love and prayers to you and your family
Lois you & Marv gave me the inspiration to downsize from the house I lived in my entire life ( while you both were downsizing the condo ) & relocate closer to my daughter! I followed your journey as you relocated closer to your daughter, and all of Marvs antics… Please keep the blog going you have helped so many of us keep living esp. when life gets hard! I know you will continue your journey as Marv wants you to.
So sorry for your loss, so glad you got to say goodbye! I never got that chance in my life’s! Ann k.
Sarah Jackson said:
Marv will always be with you in the memories you made together. Thank you for sharing your journey.
A beautiful tribute, Lois. I am so touched by the journey that you and Marv took so very consciously through this chapter of your life together. I love Deep Peace.
This is a YouTube link to a fabulous recording. Bill Douglas, the composer lives here, and ArsNova did the original: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1OAZR4Avs0&list=PLddYcrBlZGyWwJzDFof6URrgPltQLZtW_.
Deep Peace to you and your family.
Nancy Carlson said:
Only met you via your book and visit with our book club in Michigan but have been praying for you and your family. Thank you for sharing your journey with so many. I am sure God is using your journey in mighty ways. May His love, the memories you have, and the love of family and friends carry you through these hard days.
Kathy Groenendal said:
So beautifully written! You have my tears, thoughts, and prayers for you and your entire family. I saw this on Facebook and thought of you.
Gracefully Broken ❤❤
I was in Dollar Tree last night and there was a lady and two kids behind me in the LONG line. One was a big kid, one was a toddler. The bigger one had a pack of glow sticks and the baby was screaming for them so the Mom opened the pack and gave him one, which stopped his tears. He walked around with it smiling, but then the bigger boy took it and the baby started screaming again. Just as the Mom was about to fuss at the older child, he bent the glow sticks and handed it back to the baby. As we walked outside at the same time, the baby noticed that the stick was now glowing and his brother said “I had to break it so you could get the full effect from it.” I almost ran because l could hear God saying to me, “I had to break you to show you why I created you. You had to go through it so you could fulfill your purpose.” That little baby was happy just swinging that “unbroken” glow stick around in the air because he didn’t understand what it was created to do…which was “glow”. There are some people who will be content just “being”, but some of us that God has chosen, we have to be “broken”. We have to get sick. We have to lose a job. We have to bury our spouse, parents, best friend, or our child because, in those moments of desperation, God is breaking us but when the breaking is done, then we will be able to see the reason for which we were created.
I was created to Glow, Amen.
–by Juliet Cox
Carolyn Tews said:
So sorry for your loss. You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.
Carolyn Tolsma Tews ’89
marianna crane said:
Thank you for taking us on your journey with such sincerity and simplicity. May we all benefit from your experience. It was beautiful.
QP and Eye said:
Beautifully written, as always. Thank you for sharing such a poignant and sad moment. Sending cyber hugs and blessings, Linda
roger van buren said:
So many have written so many nice comments above. I knew this was coming and wanted to say something meaningful for you too. But there were never words good enough, so I’ve waited. There still are not. This was tough for me too, and I’ve spent time figuring out why. Probably because we knew each other so well. We grew up 2 miles apart, same school, church, basketball team, hunted together, double dated, same college, both married Calvin girls from preacher backgrounds, both later took graduate degrees in the same fields, both worked with kids, both pursued the same politicians for the same goals, both had cancer, both got old, both believed in being open, both checked in on each other. I never knew him to be dishonest for a second, pretentious, disrespectful or inconsiderate. He came from that kind of family. All “birds of feather”. That says much about you too. Thanks for doing such a good job of sharing and caring. The heads up gave me a chance to thank Marv for his book, for letting me understand some things about him and his family I never knew-even though we rode on the same bus, visited together, and all that! And to tell Marv that I have learned what makes the best kind of social worker like he was. He was intelligent, empathetic, a strong advocate, and someone who respected his clients, starting where they were and working along side of them as they made their own decisions-just as he always insisted he do for himself.
Lois Barliant said:
I do not know why this didn’t come as your messages have in the past, but I’m glad to read it now. You have been in my thoughts and prayers since your earlier message. I am so glad to have read this tonight. It’s a little like a visit. Thank you.
Duard Warsen said:
Lois, I also find myself at a loss for words beyond being truly sorry for your loss. When Sandy died I felt like my world was turned upside down. I remember Phyllis and me meeting with you and Marv some time after Sandy died, I appreciated your concern and support for me at that time. I knew Marv and I were both social workers but did not realize until I read his obituary that we have the same birth date and middle name.
Your God’s Grace blogs have been most meaningful and I’m sure will be helpful to many. Your compassionate love and care during this adventure are ultimate “Caring Lessons”. Marv’s excellently lived life and values will be a lasting legacy to cherish.
Our prayers for you and your family continue. Duard and Pat
Lois Roelofs said:
Our sympathy to you and your family, Lois. Just think of how many lives you both have touched in such a positive way! May you know the wonder of God’s love all around you.
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Attracta Fahy said:
Sincere condolences on the loss of your precious Marv. This has been an incredible journey for you both, and for all of us that you have shared it with.
I am a nurse, almost thirty years ago I had a similar journey when I nursed my mother for five and a half months. She had her wish to die at home. I will be forever grateful that I gave up my permanent position to nurse her.
I relived some of my own journey following yours.
Thank you for sharing your life, I have no doubt that what you have done will be a source of strength. I wish you blessings and much love as Marv sleeps peacefully in eternal love. 💕
I am sorry for your loss my husband passed away in march all your words help many I just wanted you to know that. I Have been following you since you moved to SD My prayers are with you. Best wishes, Cheryl
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